Huaraz is the trekking capital of Peru. Too bad I’m not a trekker. However, I do enjoy the beautiful scenery. The city’s name comes from the Quechua word for sunrise. My arrival to Huaraz didn’t start off too well as my bus actually arrived early at 5:00 am before sunrise. Better early than late, right?
At first glance, the city of Huaraz isn’t spectacular. Dilapidated buildings line each street. I can only see trees on the surrounding mountains. An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale nearly destroyed the city in 1970.
At the moment, Huaraz’s Plaza de Armas is an eclectic collection of Christmas decorations. Each small plot of grass has some random festive embellishment with a massive “sponsored by” sign next to it.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen indigenous people wearing colorful outfits. In Huaraz, the Quechua women wear these tall felt hats with very intricate details. Each one was individualized to suit the lady who is wearing the hat. Some had feathers. Others had intricate ribbon details on it. I saw one with initials and a heart bedazzled onto it.
Massive afternoon downpours marked my days in Huaraz. Like clockwork, the sky opens up at around 4:00 pm and the rain tapers off by 8:00 pm. I do love the rain. I don’t like it when I’m trying to do outdoorsy things.
In my efforts to do local stuff, I boarded a colectivo to the small town of Marcará, some 27 km north of Huaraz. Marcará is known for their thermal baths, and Baños Thermales de Chancos is the one where everyone heads to.
The cuevas (caves) are what makes this particular thermal bath special with seven caves to soak in at various temperatures. They told me I could only stay in the bath for a maximum of 15 minutes, but I was here on a Tuesday morning. I stayed until my fingers looked like prunes. Also, I did the poza yerbal (herbal bath) in a private room. I sat in warm water that smelled like an herb garden. It was definitely worth the 10 PEN ($2.99).
How to get to Chancos
- Find a colectivo heading to Carhuaz, Yungay, or Caraz along Calle Jr. Comercio. The cost to Marcará is 3 PEN.
- From Marcará, you can get a shared taxi that will take you to Chancos once it’s full. Try to get the front seat if possible. Full means 4 people crammed onto the back seat plus the lucky person who managed to snag the front seat. The 3 km ride will cost 1.50 PEN.
- To get back to Huaraz, shared taxis wait for passengers at Chancos. Once you are back on the main street, it is easy to flag down any colectivo.
Carhuaz is a small town located 34 km north of Huaraz. This place is compact but quite lively for a Wednesday morning when I was there.
The town’s specialty is their artisanal ice cream. They offered very Peruvian flavors like coca leaves, kiwicha (love-lies-bleeding fruit [Yes, this is what’s called in English]), tuna (cactus fruit), and chia seeds. I had to get a scoop of coca leaves because it’s good for altitude sickness. Three flavors cost 5 PEN ($1.49)!
Yungay is 56 km north of Huaraz. This town got the worse of the 1970 earthquake as a massive debris avalanche buried Yungay. To honor the memory of the victims, the old town was declared a national cemetery, and a new city was rebuilt 1.6 km north.
I was in Yungay as it is the main entryway to get to the lakes. The city’s old cemetery is perched on a hill and offers a great view of the surrounding mountains. Entry into the cemetery is 5 PEN ($1.48).
Caraz is 69 km north of Huaraz. Honestly, I was only here because the tour to the lake made me go. Caraz’s claim to fame is its manjar blanco. I would call manjar the cousin of caramel. It’s so bad yet so good, but you can easily pick up manjar at any supermarket. Don’t go to the trouble of going to Caraz unless you must.
Thanks to Huaraz’s cold nights, cramped overnight buses, and a slight tweak from Chachapoyas, my knee started bothering me. To play it safe, I decided to forgo the popular day hikes to Laguna 69 and Parón and do the super easy Laguna Llanganuco.
Laguna Llanganuco is actually two lakes liked by a small river. Unfortunately, the tour lied to me and we only went to one lake. [Reason #1 why I hate tours.]
Words are hard to describe the lakes here in Cordillera Blanca. It’s turquoise and insanely clear. Sadly, this particular lake, Laguna Chinancocha, has an overpopulation of plants and algae due to pollution from raising livestock in nearby villages, blackwater, and solid waste disposal on the lake shores.
You can hire someone to row you to the middle of the lake. I have no idea what that costs as I didn’t do it. I was spending my time trying to hide from the tour guide.
How to get to Laguna Llanganuco
- Sadly, the best option for the lake is by a tour. In theory, you can get a colectivo to Yungay. After that, it becomes tricky. Unless you want to walk 20 km to the entrance of the park, your best bet would be a taxi. My tour costs 25 PEN, which was basically the transport cost.
- Foreigners have to pay 30 PEN to get into the park as compared to 11 PEN for Peruvians. The ticket is good for one day. There’s a 2-day pass for 60 PEN, which saves you nothing. Blah…
So a bit of information. Parque Nacional Huascaran is massive. I had no idea that the lakes of Cordillera Blanca to the north and Pastouri Glacier to the south were all in the same park.
Before going to the glacier, we stopped by a puya forest. The puya plant is a mammoth of a plant. It can grow up to 15 m tall and can produce 8,000 to 20,000 flowers on one single plant. Sadly, it wasn’t blooming time when I was there, but the sheer size of these things was astounding. I equate them to pineapples on steroids.
Another stop before going to the glacier was at a gaseous lake. Water from one of these lakes bubble like water boiling on the stove. For some reason, this causes the water to be crystal clear. I wasn’t allowed to go near the lake, but I could easily see what is inside the lake. It was ridiculous how clear it was.
Pastoruri Glacier is technically not a glacier anymore. Sadly, because of global warming, Pastoruri is shrinking. Scientists believe it may disappear in the next 10 years.
The hike to the glacier was pretty easy minus the altitude. It’s paved for most of the way and a few benches to rest for those who are feeling lightheaded. There is an option to rent a horse that will take you halfway there for 15 PEN, but I don’t think it’s worth it. When I got the glacier, it began to snow. It wasn’t soft snow. Baby ice pellets were hitting my face, and it didn’t feel good. However, the glacier and the lake with its reflection of the mountains and sky made the trip worthwhile.
How to get to Pastoruri Glacier
- Like with many of the beautiful things to see around Huaraz, it is best with a tour. Public transport will only get you to the start of the road to enter the park. Then, it’s a good long 30 km walk before the park entrance. My tour cost 25 PEN.
- The park entrance fee for foreigners is 30 PEN. The 2-day pass is 60 PEN, not exactly a bargain.
I really enjoyed Huaraz of all its amazing landscape that surrounds the area. I probably should have spent more than four days here, but that just means I’ll have to return some day.